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Harada Roshi

The Way of Writing. A Shodo Class

For many years residents at Sogenji have had the opportunity to study Shodo with an excellent calligrapher: Taeko Sugitani San.

From left to right: Shogan, Sugitani San, Genshin and Jiko.

Sugitani San opens her home and offers all the materials to patiently guide the brush and ink to flow on each stroke. She has dedicated her life to this art and her work is beautiful. Yet she is humble and generous, always offering her time and warm-joyful feeling to all who visit.

Japanese Calligraphy mainly focuses on simplicity, beauty, and, most importantly, a mind-body connection. Its key purpose is to manifest a force of spirit.

A calligraphy set consists of:

  • Shitajiki: Black, soft mat. It provides a comfortable, soft surface.
  • Bunchin: Metal stick to weight down the paper during writing.
  • Hanshi: Special, thin calligraphy paper.
  • Fude: Brush. There are larger and smaller brushes.
  • Suzuri: Heavy black container for the ink.
  • Sumi: Solid black material that must be rubbed in water in the suzuri to produce the black ink which is then used for writing. Of course, "instant ink" in bottles is also available.

When you learn Japanese characters, you draw one stroke after the other. This is called the square (Kaisho) style of writing kanji.  Also there are two faster styles of writing in which the kanji become a little bit less legible, just like when writing Roman letters in a fast way. These two styles are called semi cursive (gyosho) and cursive (sosho).

Square style

Semi cursive style

Cursive style

Unlike the strokes of Roman letters, the strokes of Japanese characters have to be drawn in the correct order, not arbitrarily. 

Shogan practicing Kaisho style. Every line in its correct order.

In producing any piece of Japanese calligraphy, mastering the element of Line is an absolute essential. Often the line is drawn with a specific focus such as love, determination, or positivity. These feelings can often dictate the type of line that follows (whether it is wavy, straight, or curved). The tension of the line can also be created in this fashion.

Genshin at work.

In conjunction with Line, mastering Shape is also an important aspect in producing any stroke. Because calligraphy is achieved with dragging, pressing, and sweeping techniques, no outlining or drawing is ever used. You can´t erase or go back.

The element of Space is also essential in creating a beautiful calligraphy piece. It is crucial that the artist remains aware of the placement of each line, especially in more complicated symbols. Often, the calligrapher is required to visualize where each line will start, stop and meet before he/she even touches the brush to the paper. Without undivided attention to spacing, the finished symbol will fail to appear as desired, even with the most perfect lines and shapes.

All materials are out in the Calligraphy room. Orange ink is used to correct the strokes. An orange spiral over the stroke means Well done!

Jiko focuses and Sugitani San carefully checks all strokes.

Sugitani san usually emphasizes “naturalness” and “naive strokes”. She asks us to not try hard to make the strokes become one way or another but rather allow them to appear on their own.

As Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro (1870-1945) wrote: "True creativity is not the product of consciousness but rather the phenomenon of life itself. True creation, must arise from Mu-Shin, the state of no mind, in which thought, emotions, and expectations do not matter. Truly skillful Zen calligraphy is not the product of intense practice; rather, it is best achieved as the product of the no-mind state, a high level of spirituality, and a heart free of disturbances.

Sugitani San carefully preparing the table for a tea break. Today Mugi tea and home made warabi mochi is served. Thank You Very Much!

Some information on Shodo came from: http://www.zenshodo.com/history.htm and http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2095.html



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